By Senior Master Sgt. Paula Macomber, 152nd Airlift Wing
/ Published October 17, 2019
Diana Brown, daughter of 1st Lt. Frank Salazar, the Nevada Air National Guard’s only combat fatality and Col. Jacob Hammons after Brown talked about her experience as a family member of a Missing in Action service member during the POW/MIA remembrance day Sept. 20, 2019 at Nevada Air National Guard Base.
Diana Brown, the daughter of Nevada Air National Guard’s only combat fatality, 1st Lt. Frank Salazar, spoke to Airmen on the 40th anniversary of the first POW/MIA Recognition Day.
In front of a full wing auditorium, Brown spoke about growing up without her father, who was listed as missing in action for two years during the Korean War, before congress listed him as deceased in 1954. Her father was a member of the 192nd Fighter Squadron stationed at the Army Air Base at Stead, Nev.
“Freedom isn’t free,” Brown gave a powerful testimony to what this entails, “There is a sacrifice and price paid to protect our nation’s freedom.”
She went on to say, “As a daughter of an MIA, I believe that the families of POW/MIA have something valuable to contribute to our country. We understand that freedom isn’t free. We understand what it means to live decades with unanswered questions. To grow up with not knowing what happened to our loved one.”
She shared her story detailing painful memories of her family trying to continue without knowing if or when her father would return. Most people do not remember what happened last week, Brown recalls descriptive details about her life from the age of four years old.
“I remember the drive to Travis Air Force Base, we left from my Grandpa’s place in San Jose. I remember my Daddy holding me in his arms and kissing me goodbye at Travis. I remember his love for me. How he played and danced with me. How he taught me to draw. How he wrote letters to me from Korea and I wrote letters back to him. I remember the delivery of the MIA telegram. I had just turned 5 years old the same month he went missing. I remember the tears and fearful look on my mother and grandmother’s faces after my mom opened and read the telegram in a hushed tone. As young as I was, I knew something really bad had happened and I sensed in a child’s heart that it had something to do with my father. But I was too young to understand why my Daddy never came home or why his letters stopped. Or why no one talked about him anymore. It was as if he never existed. But I remembered him and I missed him and I couldn’t make sense of it.”
According to Brown, after the Korean War, there were very little resources for family support counseling in these situations. In fact, it wasn’t until much later that family members had any type of help dealing with this type of grief.
Brown’s mother dealt with the grief by quickly remarrying. “Her way to forget the pain and move on. Then a new man takes my father’s place but I know he is not my father. I wonder what happened to my father. Still no one ever mentioned anything about my father. No photos were displayed for my younger brother and I to see or to remember him.”
After many decades of grief for not knowing what happened to her father, the Nevada Air National Guard invited her out to the base for the 50th anniversary of the base in 1998, and dedicated the 50th anniversary yearbook to her father.
A very grateful woman, “That changed my life. Now someone remembered and honored my father,” she said, “The Nevada Air National Guard opened the door for our family to heal after almost 50 years. It was clear to my brother and I that his life mattered to his unit, not just to us. It was hurtful to my brother and me that our mother didn’t keep his memory alive…for us, his children. I was angry at her most of my life for basically not honoring and remembering him and his service. There was no mention of him on memorial days, on veteran’s days or even his birthday. But because of you, the Nevada Air National Guard, my brother and I were able to help each other heal.”
The presentation ended with a heartfelt message from the Vice Wing Commander of the 152nd Airlift Wing, Col. Jacob Hammons.
“We get mired down with our day-to-day mission sometimes of fixing airplanes and launching airplanes and supporting our people," Hammons said, "But this transcends our day-to-day mission and I just want you to know how important it is that you are here today and how much it means to us as an organization and your father’s sacrifice carries on in our hearts. We will carry that torch into the next generation. A lot of the people sitting here today think about your father a lot, I know I think about him a lot—he’s a hero to the Nevada Air National Guard. I just want to thank you for your father’s sacrifice and thank you for continuing to press to bring everyone home and we won’t forget that.”